National Security Network

NSN National Security Vice Presidential Debate Survival Kit

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Press Release Washington, D.C. 1 October 2008

Joe Biden Sarah Palin vice presidency vice presidential debate

Today, the National Security Network released the following two reports previewing tomorrow night's Vice Presidential debate between Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) and Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK). The first report examines the national security hurdles Gov. Palin must clear. The second report chronicles the growing importance of the vice presidency from a foreign policy perspective.

5 National Security Hurdles Governor Palin Must Clear
(Full Report here)


1. KNOWLEDGE: Governor Palin must demonstrate the knowledge necessary to be Commander-in-Chief.

Governor Palin has repeatedly cited Alaska's proximity to Russia as a qualification for being Commander-in-Chief.  This despite the fact that Russia isn't even in the top twenty countries that trade with Alaska and that Moscow is actually closer to Maine than Alaska.  Moreover, when asked about the Bush Doctrine, Palin did not recognize the argument over preemption that dominated American politics and foreign policy circles for years.  She did not even obtain a passport until last year and has shown little interest in international affairs. 

2. PAKISTAN: Governor Palin must explain the McCain-Palin position on eliminating Al Qaeda's safe-haven in Pakistan.

Pakistan is one of the most critical issues currently facing our country.  Our intelligence community and the Pentagon believe that the safe haven on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border represents the most likely source of another attack on the United States.  Yet incredibly, Governor Palin's position on this issue appears to be at odds with John McCain's.  While he has criticized Barack Obama for arguing that the U.S. should take direct action against high value terrorist targets inside Northwest Pakistan, Governor Palin has made remarks suggesting she supports such measures.

3. IRAN: Governor Palin must explain the McCain-Palin strategy for dealing with Iran.

Governor Palin has called Barack Obama's proposal to engage in diplomacy with Iran without preconditions "dangerous" and "naïve."  Yet, it is almost the exact same position as the one taken by one of her own campaign's advisors - Henry Kissinger.  Moreover, Palin has made public statements that would implicitly give Israel a green light to attack Iran - even though such an action would have serious national security implications for the United States and the Bush administration has reportedly opposed such a move.

4. RUSSIA: Governor Palin must explain the McCain-Palin position on Russia.

Instead of carefully avoiding hypotheticals and inflammatory language, Governor Palin recklessly speculated about a possible war with Russia - the world's second largest nuclear power.  She must clarify her ticket's positions on Georgia joining NATO and the potential for war with Russia over South Ossetia.

5. VISION: Governor Palin must articulate what her vision is for American foreign policy

Governor Palin has said little about her own foreign policy views and philosophy.  In an interview with Katie Couric she seemed to take a position similar to the Neoconservatives and George Bush's first term and early second term that we should be aggressively spreading democracy as the main goal of U.S. foreign policy and that this type of approach would help eliminate terrorism.  She must expand on this view and give a fuller description of her general approach to national security.



The Growth of the Vice Presidency
Tough Questioning of Candidates on Foreign Policy a Must
Thursday night Joe Biden and Sarah Palin will square off in the first and only vice-presidential debate of 2008.  While historically the vice-presidential candidates have not had a large impact on the electorate, nine of 44 vice presidents have been forced to suddenly take office in the midst of a presidential term. It goes without saying that vice presidential candidates must demonstrate that they are capable and qualified to be Commander in Chief.
Moreover, the Vice Presidency has been transformed from a ceremonial position to an office with a full and complicated foreign policy agenda. It is no longer the case that the job of the vice president is merely to check on the health of the president. With the end of the Cold War and the rise of globalization, the foreign policy issues confronting the United States have become more numerous and varied.  Given the expanded role of the U.S. in addressing global challenges, it was natural that the Vice President's office adopt a growing role in foreign policy, since the office can speak authoritatively not just on behalf of the entire administration, but on behalf of the entire country. During the Clinton administration, Al Gore chaired a U.S.-Russia commission and was the first American leader to visit China following the Tiananmen Square massacre. Dick Cheney has been dispatched to Pakistan, the Middle East and Eastern Europe and played a highly influential and independent role in crafting Bush administration foreign policy.
It is imperative that in tomorrow night's debate the vice presidential candidates demonstrate their competence and knowledge on foreign policy. With so many critical issues facing our country it is crucial for the Vice President's office to continue to be able to play an important role in foreign policy.
The role of the vice presidency has expanded since the end of the Cold War.  Al Gore and Dick Cheney have been the two most powerful vice presidents in history.  This is in large part "because the president needs more and more help with the complexity of issues with international scope, from terrorism to global warming." As America's international agenda has grown since the end of the Cold War, so has the vice president's.  "Mr. Gore was the first vice president to serve as a full member of the National Security Council and was given broad sway over a large part of United States policy toward Russia." Gore "was known within the [Clinton] administration as at least the second most influential adviser to the president, after Hillary Rodham Clinton. He was often the quickest to push an aggressive approach, whether on foreign policy or on budgets or on trade." Meanwhile in the last eight years, the powers of the vice president have grown even stronger. "Cheney's impact on the Bush presidency - his role in the buildup to the Iraq War, his influence on anti-terrorism policies such as eavesdropping and interrogation tactics, and his expansive view of executive power - has been so widespread that his status as the most powerful vice president in history isn't seriously debated anymore" [New York Times, 8/31/00. New York Times, 6/12/07]
Vice President's have taken responsibility over important foreign policy issues since the end of the Cold War. As Vice President, Gore "played a critical part in the removal of thousands of nuclear weapons from former Soviet states; in pushing for a more muscular response to the bloodshed in Bosnia."  Gore met regularly with the Russian Prime Minister to discuss the complex issues of "disarmament, space cooperation, legal issues and the environment, among other(s)."  When referring to Gore, former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke said, "On Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo and the Middle East, he was always the most forceful advocate in the room for a strong policy." Gore was the highest-ranking American official to visit China since President George Bush visited eight years earlier. Cheney was dispatched to Pakistan this year to pressure the government to do more in dealing with Islamic extremists. He was instrumental to the diplomatic efforts in the run-up to the Iraq war. Cheney traveled to meet with leaders in Britain, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait. Following the Russian war with Georgia, Cheney visited Georgia and two other ex-Soviet republics, Azerbaijan and Ukraine. [New York Times, 8/31/00. Time, 5/19/99. New York Times, 6/12/07. Washington Post, 2/27/08. Foreign Press Center Briefing, 3/8/02]
The expansion of Vice Presidential powers under Cheney requires a thorough examination of the vice presidential candidates.  Cheney's role in crafting Bush administration policy "produced an independent operation inside the White House that has done more harm than good." Either Joe Biden or Sarah Palin will hold this position come January, and "most experts on the vice presidency expect Cheney's successor to insist on a continuation of those practices." The New York Times explained earlier this summer that "Because of Cheney, the next vice presidential candidates will have to answer more questions about their views, not just about their health and whether they could function as president if needed. And the next presidential nominees will be under more pressure to spell out what responsibilities their vice presidents would have - and where those responsibilities would end." Bruce Fein, constitutional lawyer and former Reagan administration official, said in 2007 that, "the vice president's importance will probably be raised in the campaign in a way that it hasn't been raised in many, many years because of the Cheney phenomenon." Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former aide stated that if "the vice presidency is going to remain more powerful than it was in the past, then yes, I do think we need to start thinking more critically about who we elect to that office." [New York Times, 6/12/07. Time 5/08/07]
The numerous and varied foreign policy challenges awaiting the next administration necessitate continued involvement of the Vice President in foreign policy.  The foreign policy challenges facing the next administration are extensive and any number of issues could come to dominate a President's time. For example, the next administration will have to:
  • handle the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan;
  • become diplomatically engaged in the Middle East peace process from the outset;
  • strengthen and clarify the U.S. relationship with Pakistan, Russia, China, and our European allies;
  • deal with Iran, Sudan, and North Korea; 
  • and potentially address a global economic crisis or a possible natural disaster similar to the 2004 tsunami

Each of these issues, as well as others that have not yet become apparent, will require extensive attention from the next administration. Having a vice president who is effective and capable to help deal with these challenges is essential. [Council on Foreign Relations, 8/27/08]